Andrea Zellner is a PhD student in the Ed Psych/Ed Tech Program at Michigan State University and a permanent author at GradHacker. You can follow her on twitter at @AndreaZellner.
A few days ago, Inside Higher Ed covered a new study that sought to identify why some academics publish more than others. The answer in short: people who network well and are motivated to write publish more. These two factors contributed to productivity more than "age, gender, job satisfaction, managerial support or teaching load." We've covered networking before here on Gradhacker, be it networking at conferences or online. But how to stay motivated to write? This is especially tricky considering that one enemy of writing is fear of criticism, which is hard to overcome when academic writing has at its core the fact that one's writing WILL BE CRITICIZED. That's not to even begin to consider the inner critic we all struggle with. I've come to believe that this is all just part of the process. When I'm looking for writing motivation, I have a go-to list that keeps me going in the face of procrastination and my inner critic. Here's a round-up of my favorite quotes and advice for when I just need to get in front of the page and put words on it.
- "Write like you are on a bender, edit like you are in rehab." This quote has become my writing mantra (can anyone find the source? I have tried to find a source for this with no luck). When I set aside writing time, I make a conscious effort to just write. If I have trouble getting started, I set the timer for 10 minutes and then work my way up to longer writing stretches (I give myself either social media breaks or walking breaks for 2-3 minutes in between the timed writing lengths). I don't edit at all as I write, and I set aside a separate time for editing. This method has worked great for me, but it doesn't work for everyone. In B.F. Skinner's autobiography, he noted that he agonized over his writing, and he estimated he spent almost 2 minutes per word during his composition process. In this way, he found he rarely had to edit.
- "Writing is 1% inspiration, 99% not getting distracted by the Internet." I love this remixed quote from Thomas Edison. If my social circle and twitter feeds are any indication, a lot of people struggle with the resisting the siren song of the mindless surf when a writing deadline looms. If you find yourself struggling to write without checking Reddit one more time, Gradhacker has a few posts on distraction-free writing tools.
- When it comes to writing advice, refer to Rule #11. My absolute favorite list of writing advice comes via the New York Times and Colson Whitehead. In his essay "How to Write," Whitehead defines the rules for writing. My favorite is Number 8 which "Is secret." Most useful, however, is Rule #11: "There are no rules. If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too? No. There are no rules except the ones you learned during your Show and Tell days. Have fun. If they don’t want to be friends with you, they’re not worth being friends with. Most of all, just be yourself. " If I am not having fun writing up something for publication, I know I'm doing it wrong. I started this whole grad school journey because I had questions I was passionately hoping to answer. I try to stay focused on how lucky I am to get a chance to answer them.
For more writing advice:
- McSweeney's "The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better than You Normally Do." I can't read this without howling with laughter. Read this in the library at your own risk.
- A great one for academics, this take-down of Zombie Nouns by Helen Swordwill help put the zip back into your academic writing.
How do you stay motivated to write? Let us know in the comments!
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